The Pain of Overload

As I mentioned last time, writers need margin in their lives in order to write. However, margin has disappeared for many people.

Frazzled mothers, office workers, retired grandparents, and other writers struggle to find both time and energy to write. Make no mistake: it is harder today than at any other time in history. It’s not your imagination.

It’s also not hopeless. It comes down to adding margin back into your lifestyle.

Before we talk about how to do that, let’s talk about how the overload happens and what it looks like.

Tipping the Scale

Overload in any area of your life happens slowly. It is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is having one more expectation of you at work or home, one more change, making one more commitment, making one more purchase that you must pay for, facing one more decision.

You can comfortably handle many details in your life. But when you exceed that level, it’s called overload.

Reaching My Limits

All people have limits, and overloading your system leads to breakdown. Some overloading is easy to spot. A physical limit can easily be recognized. For example, I know I can’t lift my car, so I never try.

Performance limits can be more difficult to recognize. If my will is strong enough, I will try to do things I can’t do for very long. I might try to work 80 hours per week every week or lift my refrigerator. The overload can result in sickness or stress fractures.

Reaching your emotional and mental limits can be the hardest to spot. Each person is unique. My overload might result in symptoms like migraines and ulcers; your overload might result in a heart attack or road rage.

Has overload always been with us? No.

Multiple Sources

Changes are happening faster and faster, and overload can appear almost overnight. Here are some ways you can become overloaded:

  • Activity overload: We are busy people, we try to do three things at one time, and we are booked up in advance.
  • Change overload: Change used to be slow, and now it comes at warp speed.
  • Choice overload: In 1980 there were 12,000 items in the average supermarket; 10 years ago there were 30,000 items. Now there are many more.
  • Commitment overload: We have trouble saying no. We take on too many responsibilities and too many relationships. We hold down too many jobs, volunteer for too many tasks, and serve on too many committees.
  • Debt overload: Nearly every sector of society is in debt. Most are weighed down by consumer debt.
  • Decision overload: Every year we have more decisions to make and less time to make them. They range from the minor decisions at the grocery store to major decisions about aging parents.
  • Expectation overload: We believe that if we can think it, we can have it. We think we should have no boundaries placed on us.
  • Fatigue overload: We are tired. Our batteries are drained. Most people are even more tired at the end of their vacation than they were at the beginning.
  • Hurry overload: We walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, and feel rushed all the time. Being in a constant hurry is a modern ailment.
  • Information overload: We are buried by information on a daily basis-newspapers, magazines, online blogs and articles, TV and Internet news shows, and books.
  • Media overload: Almost 100% of the American homes now have television, and shows are on 24/7. Images are flashing at us on screen many hours per day.
  • Noise overload: True quiet is extremely rare. Noise pollution is the norm. It interferes with talking, thinking and sleeping.
  • People overload: Each of us is exposed to a greater number of people than ever before. We need people, but not the crowding.
  • Possession overload: We have more things per person than any other nation in history. Closets are full, storage space is used up, and cars can’t fit into garages anymore.
  • Technology overload: It has been estimated that the average person must learn to operate at least 20,000 pieces of equipment.
  • Traffic overload: Road rage is one byproduct of clogged roadways. Rush-hour is not a rush nor does it last an hour anymore.
  • Work overload: Millions of exhausted workers are worn out by schedules demanding more than they can do without breaking down. The earlier predictions of shorter work weeks, long vacations, and higher incomes have backfired. [From Margin by Richard Swenson, M.D.]

Isn’t reading that list simply exhausting? No wonder we feel overloaded. No wonder we have a difficult time writing!

It’s not your imagination! We Americans are overloaded – but we don’t have to stay that way! I hope you will check out Margin–it has many more helpful ideas than I have room for here. It’s a five-star book for a good reason!

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2 Responses to The Pain of Overload

  1. Doug Shearer says:

    Great Article. Being able to spot your own emotional or mental limit is harder than spotting someone else’s. Also, it doesn’t have to be a big thing to cause the overload. You’ve only got so much room and if the jug is full, even a little can cause an overflow. If you’re one of those people like I am, who can tolerate a high level of stress and you still get overloaded, it’s not a pretty picture. Yes, I have the voice of experience, and learning to see signs in your own body and act on the signs is key.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Doug, you are so right! And the older I get, the sooner I need to spot the signs and self-correct! Coming back from burn-out just takes too long to let it get that bad anymore. :-) Like you said, though, the straw that breaks the camel’s back can be a small straw if the camel is already 100% loaded.

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